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HUSH VOTE COSTS PUBLIC D.A., ASSESSOR FIGHT TERM LIMITS.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

In a unanimous closed-door decision, Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to hire attorneys at taxpayer expense to help overturn voter-approved term limits on the district attorney and the county assessor - a move requested by both officials.

Last year, Sheriff Lee Baca used taxpayer-paid lawyers to help exempt himself from term limits that voters approved in 2002. County government picked up his $19,800 legal tab.

``It's outrageous,'' said Ron Roach, spokesman for the California Taxpayers Association. ``The will of the people has already been displayed. And they didn't even have the intestinal fortitude to do it (in) open session.

``Democracy in Los Angeles County is on hold. If they want to get rid of term limits, put it back on the ballot and let the people decide. Running through the back door of the courthouse is not the same thing as the electorate expressing their will.''

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a request by District Attorney Steve Cooley and Assessor Rick Auerbach to get permission from the Attorney General's Office to file lawsuits against the county seeking to invalidate the voter-approved measure limiting them to three consecutive terms in office.

If the Attorney General's Office grants the request, separate legal counsel for Cooley and Auerbach will be able to file lawsuits similar to the one Baca filed challenging the constitutionality of the term limits.

``If it's been declared unconstitutional by a court, the same principle should apply to both of the other constitutional officers,'' said Cooley's spokesman, Joe Scott. ``There has to be clarity about having them all under the same tent, under the same rules.''

Baca, who intends to run for a third term in March 2006, based his lawsuit on a 1979 appellate court ruling that San Diego County's term-limits law was unconstitutional. Baca challenged the measure adopted in Los Angeles County, arguing state law does not give counties the powers to limit terms for elected officials other than the county supervisors.

The supervisors have not challenged the constitutionality of the term limits imposed on them.

The original county term-limit initiative targeting the Board of Supervisors was spearheaded by former La Crescenta activist Christopher Skinnell - now a Marin County lawyer - who gathered nearly 300,000 signatures.

But the measure was certified too late because the Register-Recorder's Office miscounted the number of signatures and refused to place it on the ballot in 2000.

In 2001, the group - funded by former county Supervisor Pete Schabarum - reached an agreement to put measures imposing term limits on the supervisors and other elected officials on the March 2002 ballot.

That settlement limited the officials to three more terms in office, meaning they wouldn't begin to be termed out until 2014. Under the original petition that voters signed, the officials would have begun being termed out next year.

Auerbach said he plans to retire before he would be termed out of office but joined Cooley in the request for the benefit of people who will occupy his position in the future.

``I really think if people would have had the opportunity to make a decision on term limits, where the ... supervisors were not included, they would not have voted for term limits for the assessor, sheriff and district attorney,'' Auerbach said.

``I think people view those positions differently than the Board of Supervisors. You want administrators who have been there for a long time, who know the job and are very experienced.''

Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1) L.A. County Assessor Rick Auerbach

(2) L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca

(3) L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley

Box:

CHALLENGING TERM LIMITS

SOURCE: Daily News research

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 25, 2005
Words:625
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